Every now and then, we’ll cover races at various levels: local, national and international. The first of these reports will cover last weekend’s UCI Mountain Bike World Cup race in Leogang, Austria.
Schladming has been an important fixture in the MTB World Cup calendar but not this year. The organizers had to find a new venue as the 2013 Ski World Cup preparations Unlike the rest of the photographers, I didn’t fly into Salzburg but to Munich, as it was way cheaper and still reasonably close to Leogang. The only silly thing I had done was booking a flight that left at 6:15am, which meant that I had had to get up in an ungodly hour.
The scenery was breathtaking, as you would expect from an Alpine venue. The weather wasn't that great though, when I arrived at Leogang, it was raining cats and dogs.
Soon after my arrival, I took the ski lift to the top of the mountain to check out the downhill course. It looked impressive from the gondola, but not everybody was preoccupied with the World Cup race.
The course consisted of three, very steep sections, that were linked by relatively flat bits. French rider Celine Gros rides through the first flatter part of the course.
2nd round winner Gee Atherton (Commencal) first inspects the course...
... then executes a perfect jump.
Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) inspects the course on foot.
Saturday morning didn't offer much different weather, so when the training started in the morning, the riders were welcomed again by rain and mud. This corner was at the very bottom of the course. It was a tricky one, the outer line was covered by wet roots but offered a smoother ride, whilst the inner line meant tackling a big drop. Trek World Racing rider Andrew Neethling takes rooty line during one of his practice runs.
After playing around with the aforementioned section, I walked a bit higher up on the course. This corner offered pretty good traction as it was covered with gravel - Samuel Blenkinsop handles the corner admirably.
Florian Pugin (Scott 11) looks concerned before during the pre-qualifying run warm-up. There were no need to be concerned, she run the third best time among the women.
Rachel Atherton (Commencal) qualified with the best time, which meant that she was the last one to leave the start booth. She had a really good ride until the first intermediate, but afterwards she crashed and wasn't able to finish the race.
Reigning World Champion Steve Peat's season didn't start to well, his race number (#25) tells you the story. However, he had a really strong race and finished 6th, his first top 10 finish this year.
Troy Brosnan (Monster Energy/Specialized/Mad Catz), who leads the junior World Cup standings.
World Cup races always attract massive crowds, no matter what the venue is. However, this time, it wasn’t the case. The lack of spectators was apparent on both days and the contrast to the brilliant crowd in Fort William, for example, was stark.
Saturday evening means the 4X finals. The rain was kind enough to wait until the event commenced and made everything super-slippery. And muddy.
Downhill and 4X legend, Cedric Gracia was one of the few riders who participated at both disciplines.
The muddy bottom section made the outcome of quite a few runs unpredictable.
The view from the bottom of the biggest jump.
Jared Graves, the guy who dominates the 4X field - 3 wins out of 4 races this season, he is leading the overall standings by a mile. A truly remarkable rider.
A crash that looks worse than it actually was; though Australian Sarsha Huntigton rode through another riders leg, she left the course unscathed.
This incident seemed rather innocent: the riders were pushing each other in the corner, David Graf lost his balance and dislocated his ankle. I didn't really see what happened and I thought I didn't have the shot, but as I arrived back at the press centre and went through my photos, I realised that I caught the moment it happened. He was airlifted to the nearest hospital, hopefully he can return racing soon.
It rained all night long, so it was hard to see the bikes under the thick layers of mud.
It was really hard to move around the course, partly due to the mud and due to the fact that the course was very steep, therefore I set up shop at the bottom of the course, so after the last rider crossed the finish line, I can catch the podium. She was the first female rider and all the photographers present tested the settings on her.
I was sitting in the mud for three hours to get this shot: Greg Minnaar's winning run in the final, being 0:00:00.74 faster than Gee Atherton
The women's podium: 1st Sabrina Jonnier, 2nd Emmeline Ragot, 3rd Florian Pugin, 4th Tracy Moseley, 5th Myriam Nicole
The man of the day: Greg Minnaar
After three days of mud, rain and amazing rides, I headed back to Munich to catch my plane back to London. There will be a four week long recess, until the next race in Champery, Switzerland with the fourth round of XCO and downhill. At least it will give me some time to clean my atrociously muddy camera gear.
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